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JAZZ in MARCIAC - 30th Anniversary

This is a special year celebrating the 30th Anniversary of JAZZ in MARCIAC and the notable fact is that of the fifteen days from 30 July to 13th August, every night except two was a jazz night, a rare occurrence these days on the festival circuit.

At festival time the main square and surrounding streets of the small town of Marciac in the Gers, south west France, are transformed into a maze of restaurants and market stalls selling an eclectic mix of items from the famous foie gras, fine regional wines, honey, jazz vinyl and CDs to ethnic clothing and artefacts from Africa and South East Asia. All this surrounds a covered centre stage featuring jazz from New Orleans revival to the avant-garde throughout the day. In the evening 5000 devoted jazz fans stream into the 'Chapiteau', a huge marquee with a massive stage and three video screens relaying close-ups of the action on stage. There is also the 'festival bis' with groups at the Arènes, workshops with top musicians and a couple of small jazz clubs. Everybody is dedicated to 'Le Jazz'.

Having missed the first night with E.S.T, Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke, on the second evening I plunged into the photographers' 'pit' in front of the stage. This seemed like a rehearsal for the rugby international this month and appropriate too, since the marquee is placed on the town's rugby pitch. Increasing restrictions at festivals makes photography unnecessarily difficult. However once the music started I knew I was in the right place for the kick-off, with Chick Corea and Gary Burton tapping on the piano case the rhythm for a new song based on a flamenco dance called 'Alegria'. This developed its plangent chords into a river of exchanges between piano and vibes to captivating effect. Corea and Burton have a fine rapport, a deep understanding of each other's music, after years of collaboration, confirmed in the twisting themes of Monk's 'Four in One', Corea's bullet-like 2nds bouncing around Burton's ripples and sharp angles. The concert continued with what Corea called 'not really a song – sort of sonata-like with no theme', then Bill Evans' 'Waltz for Debby' flowing in a fast ¾ with beautiful inventions. The duo concluded with a piece from 'Crystal Silence', Corea and Burton's first recording together in 1979, a rolling figure with Spanish undertones and percussive discords. This was a satisfying set to start my twelve days at Marciac, and was followed by Wayne Shorter with a powerful trio in Danilo Perez, John Patitucci and Brian Blade, and Wind Quartet 'Imani Winds'.

The Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau Quartet impressed this time around, Metheny and Mehldau going straight into an uncompromising 'jam' of tightly woven lines, to be joined later by Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums, the latter reminding me of Elvin Jones amid the layers of sound. Sweet Honey in the Rock, a marvellous vocal group, Wynton Marsalis Quintet with an extraordinary tap-dancer Jared Grimes, Madeleine Peyroux, Dianne Reeves with Russell Malone guitar, plus a superb Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo continued the momentum. Sadly Hank Jones, who was 89 on 31st July, was unable to attend but we wished him well, and Cyrus Chestnut took his place ably to compliment a rousing evening of piano music with Randy Weston and Monty Alexander.

Alex Blake, the double-bassist with Weston, playing sitting as if with a cello, excited the audience with an electrifying display of invention, control and total integration with his instrument. I have witnessed bass players trying to get away from the conventional method, with varied results, but this was a stellar performance much appreciated by Randy Weston, digging into his African bag.

The next two nights comprised the only non-jazz nights of the festival, with Taj Mahal, Joe Cocker, the Brazilians Roberto Fonseca, piano, and Gilberto Gil. Yet more piano music followed next day with the Ahmad Jamal Trio, and a lively young New Orleans player Jonathan Batiste with the Marsalis Septet. Another 'no show' was Wess Anderson who is ill, replaced by [Sherman …??] on alto sax. This was billed as a Special Anniversary concert, performing the 'Marciac Suite and More', Marsalis paying tribute to Guy Lafitte, the much respected French saxophonist and man of 'soul', as well as bassist Pierre Boussaguet.  Not forgotten were the creatures, originators no less of the famous foie gras. The first piece, Herlin Riley pushing things along à Blakey and Rodney Whitaker solid in the bass chair, was called 'Duck Loose', for the one that got away!

No French music festival would be complete without at least a nod to the memory of the legendary violinist Stephane Grappelli and Wednesday night made more than a nod in his direction. The Gypsy Swing Project, Trio Rosenberg and Didier Lockwood Trio provided a feast of French and Romanian violins and guitars underpinned by three bass players. Among the guitarists was our very own Dr. Martin Taylor MBE, a master amongst masters who dug well in on the well-loved chord sequence for a storming version of 'All the Things You Are'. Another peak in the proceedings was provided by a shy-looking schoolgirl, Special Guest Fiona Monbet, a sensational 17 year-old violinist duetting with Didier Lockwood. She swung like Grappelli and Reinhardt combined.

The last three days under the tent gave us Dave Liebman featuring in a rendition of 'Sketches of Spain' with the Orchestra of the National Conservatoire of the Region of Toulouse led by Jean-Charles Richard.  The Michel Portal and Jacky Terrasson Duo followed, Terrasson's monster left hand (he does swing) throwing down complex rythms, Portal worrying the theme like an angry bee. Next day the Dave Douglas Golden Heart Quartet with Cameron Brown on bass saluted the music of Don Cherry, and the high energy outfits of John Zorn took us into the stratosphere with Bar Kokhba and Acoustic Masada, again with Dave Douglas.  On my last night at Marciac I was sent home in fine style by drummer Willy Jones, Clifton Anderson trombone, Bobby Broom guitar, Bob Cranshaw bass and Kimati Dinizulu percussion swapping choruses with the magisterial Sonny Rollins, his slightly bent stature belying the power of his inventions and his extended codas.                                                                  

©Tim Motion. London 2007